Florida Five: Gwen Graham bucks Pelosi on first day, Legislator’s bill would restrict charter schools

Five of today’s top Florida political stories at your fingertips:

Bob and Gwen Graham
Rep.-elect Gwen Graham, D-Fla., talks with her father Bob Graham, former Florida governor and U.S. Senator. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

Gwen Graham makes a mark on first day in Congress – As former Florida Sen. Bob Graham watched his daughter, an incoming House Democrat, shake hands with an endless line of visitors Tuesday morning, he peeked out of her corner office window in Longworth at the briskly falling snow and marveled at the symmetry to his own political career. Thirty-six years earlier, in a scene captured on the front page of the Miami Herald, a 15-year-old Gwen Graham stood with her father on a frigid outdoor stage in Tallahassee at his first inauguration as governor. It snowed that day as well. Graham, born in Miami, has spent most of her life as a resident of North Florida and won her first bid for public office last year in a GOP-leaning district — one of just two Democrats to defeat a Republican incumbent. With a bubbly personality — she used the word “positive” and “excited” multiple times Tuesday to describe her experiences in politics so far — Graham confirmed just a few hours into her first day in office that she would be a standout in the freshman class. Read more

PB legislator’s bill would toughen rules to open charter schools – A state senator from Lake Worth has proposed a bill that would only allow new charter schools to open if they fill a need not being met by area public schools. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, were created to foster innovation in education. But critics argue that charter schools have strayed from that mission and that the loose laws that govern them need to be tightened. The bill (SB 254) by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, would add a few lines to state law on charter schools: “In order to obtain approval, a charter school shall clearly demonstrate that it meets a specific instructional need or a need for additional educational facilities … which the local school district does not or is unable to provide to students.” Read more

Florida lawmakers considers scaling back testing program – After a year that saw parents rise up against standardized testing, Florida lawmakers on Wednesday said they are prepared to improve the state’s assessment program. “We have a chance to do a rewrite so we can ensure that we are not over-testing our children, and ensure that we provide a road map to the districts about how to do this,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. Lawmakers floated a number of ideas. Among them: •Reducing the overall number of state-mandated exams. •Eliminating repetitive tests. Read more

Lots of cooks in Amendment 1 conservation kitchen – Florida environmentalists want lawmakers to steer $80 million a year into protecting Florida’s springs and $150 million into buying new environmentally threatened landscapes. But dividing $757.7 million next year between competing priorities — such as protecting ecosystems and retiring leaky septic tanks polluting springs in Central Florida – could be a months-long political fight. The green groups including Audubon of Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation and others made their pitch to a Senate panel Wednesday that got updated – and higher – tallies for how much the amendment will require to be spent on conservation under the Amendment 1 mandate voters overwhelmingly passed last November. Read more

Next up for Senate education panels: the opt-out movement – In PowerPoint presentations delivered to two Senate committees Wednesday, state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart noted that “state law requires mandatory participation in the statewide standardized assessment program.” The words “mandatory participation” were bold and underlined. Some Florida parents think differently. A growing number are helping their children “opt out” of standardized testing. There was virtually no discussion of the opt-out movement at Wednesday’s education committee meetings, which were aimed at addressing concerns about Florida’s testing program. But there will be in the future. Read more

BONUS: Rubio: Bondi should appeal gay marriage ruling

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